"Beter dan de natuur"
in: Jan Brand & Alex de Vries (eds), NEO, pp. 221-235
ISBN: 90 5983 002 4
Better than naturetranslation
H. Miehe, 'Sitzung vom 28.Oktober 1927', Berichte der Deutschen Botanischen Gesellschaft, 47. Jg, Bd. XLV, Berlin-Dahlem: Deutsche botanische Gesellschaft, 1927. p. 505. Obituary of Reinhold Brendel.
Henri Reiling, Botanische Instructie in Nederland : Beschrijving objecten (Report for Dutch National Natural History Museum 'Naturalis' Leyden), Utrecht: manuscript, 1995
Enrico Baldini, 'Documenti di museografia naturalistica: xiloteche e modelli botanico-pomologici', in: Gianni Bedini en Fabio Garbari, Proceedings of the international symposium "The 400 years of the Pisa Botanic garden: The botanic garden: is its past the key to its future?", Pisa, 1991.
Monika v. Düring e.a., Encyclopaedia Anatomica: Museo La Specola Florence, Cologne etc., 1999.
Nick Hopwood, Embryos in wax: models from the Ziegler studio. Cambridge etc., 2002.
Alan Lemmers, Techniek op schaal: modellen en het technologiebeleid van de Marine 1725-1885. Amsterdam, 1996.
James Peto en Angie Hudson (red.), Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. Londen etc., 2002.
Henri Reiling, 'The Blaschkas' glass animal models: origins of design', Journal of Glass Studies 40 (1998), pp. 105-126.
Henri Reiling, 'The Blaschkas' glass animal models: illustrations of 19th-century zoology', Scientiarum Historia 26 (Brussels, 2000) nr. 12, pp. 131-143.
[Marie-Dominique de Teneuille (red.)], A fleur de peau: Le moulage sur nature au XIXe siècle, Paris, 2001. From this exhibition catalogue of Musée d'Orsay in Paris especially the contributions of Edouard Papet and Thomas Schnalke were followed.
Georg Uschmann, 'Die Naturgeschichte des biologischen Modells' in: 'Biologische Modelle', Nova Acta Leopoldina: Abhandlungen der deutschen Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina - Neue Folge 33 (1968), nr. 184, pp. 43-64.
Natural history may be considered as a spin-off of the medical sciences, and the history of natural history models as a sequel to the history of medical models. The 18th century witnesses the genesis of wax-models that document medical-anatomical knowledge, in the 19th century succeeded by a surprising divergence of models that show natural history knowledge. Models that present enlargements even prepare for observation of minute shapes with looking glass or microscope. Models replace problematic nature. Life is vulnerable and mortal and all life has its seasons: fully-grown plants or animals are often not available. Preserved materials are appropriate for research, but they are not very suitable for instruction. Models on the other hand are permanent, self-evident and forever available.
A typology of models
The concept of "model" is ambiguous. The word itself denotes concepts of shape, example, depiction, print, sample, prescription and outline. A model represents something, which it is essentially not. The paradoxical exception also exists: objects are known that serve as an example of what they represent as a model. A classification of models can be based on their relation to reality. One may identify technical models, which define reality, functional models, that imitate reality and scientific models, which shape presuppositions or hypothesises. Models that are conceived for entertainment only create a reality in their own right.
Technical models define present or future reality. In architecture they are usually designed or made earlier than the constructions that they represent – often as scale-models. It is not a coincidence that the word "model" has its origins in 15th century architecture and in that field it was used as "modello" since the 16th century. Technical models may be part of the development of techniques and serve as an instrument to disseminate knowledge. A significant function is to provide data on reality, especially mechanical principles. For example, in the 18th century scale-models were made – for instance of a crane or a pile driver – which demonstrate the workings of these apparatuses.
Functional models are imitations of reality. Objects that serve as a model of objects like themselves are classified in this category as well. An example is presented by the samples- and models-collections that were assembled on the 19th century Dutch navy wharves, in which one ore a few specimens were kept of all the used tools, materials, spare parts, etcetera, including doorknobs and nails. In these cases the function of the utensils is purely an exemplary one, being a model. A functional model is what is usually referred to as a 'model'. It represents something, that it is essentially not: a body is not made of wax, a flower not of papier mâché and a sea anemone not of glass.
Opposed to technical and functional models, scientific models do not reflect reality: their relation with reality is postulated. They are simulations or analogies, presented as digital or mathematical constructs or physical installations. They are applied by scholars as an aid in composing hypothesis or in evaluating experimental data. For instance, in 1874 the embryologist Wilhelm His (1831-1904) cut a longitudinal slit in an elastic rubber tube. This enabled distortions in this tube, which modelled the postulated mechanical processes in embryonic growth, disregarding biological explanations (1) .
Finally, scale-models can be put to use as entertainment or eye-catcher in publicity and marketing. Likewise, model trains and dolls houses present a make-believe world to their users. Their attractiveness is also induced by the fact that the objects are small, which is why they can melt hearts. Dinky toys cause the same effect, as do small animals. By the way, this mental mechanism clarifies the appeal of many natural history models: being of modest size, they are endearing.
Anatomical models: captured knowledge
In eightteenth-century Italy wax-models are made, that spatially show human anatomy. This ceroplastic originated in Bologna, but possibly the best well known is the collection of La Specola in Florence, assembled since 1771 and opened in 1775. Clemente Susini (1754-1814) and Paolo Mascagni (1755-1815) worked here.
The wax-models of the human body are accessible both to the specialist as the laymen and this popularisation of science may be attributed to the ideals of the enlightenment. The models are abstractions: sometimes as much as two hundreds of corpses are required as an example to compose a single body. They impress with freshness, luxurious colours, immaculacy and perfection without any trace of age or decay. Poses are often derived from art works, anatomical plates or atlases.
Copies of the Florentine pieces are produced in 1876 to serve in the military doctors training in Vienna. In France, André Pierre Pinson (1746-1828) makes medical wax models. From 1822 on, Petrus Koning (1787-1834) makes for the Utrecht University, realistic human and animal anatomical waxes, deriving from the Italian tradition (2) .
Likewise, Louis Thomas Jérôme Auzoux (1797-1878) from Paris makes from 1822 on papier mâché human anatomical models. His innovation is that the model can be dissembled and assembled again. These models compensate for the acute shortage of corpses in medical training. In the course of time he expands his assortment with animal anatomy models (3) .
Casts in art and science
After the heyday in fifteenth-century Florence the moulage, the process of moulding and casting nature, a revival emerges in the 19th century, and from ca. 1834 in France. In that country moulage is not considered art but, just like photography, only as reproduced reality. In both cases, their function, attributed both by art criticism and the law but also by the makers themselves, is documentation. Since the beginning of the 19th century the arts show indeed a development towards realism, but their mission is not to copy nature, but to express its essence. Moulage is not to have style.
Casts of (death)masks are widely used for artistic purposes, for science as well as for personal affection. Soon casts of hands become popular as a memento of an absent or deceased beloved one. Body parts that are not appropriate to be shown, like feet or legs are cast for professional use by artists, or for private enjoyment.
In art education plaster models of an enlarged ear, eye or nose derived from the classics are used when practising. Casts of classicist statues and ornaments' fragments are drawn as well (4) . Apart from that, one draws living models, example and inspiration for the creation of idealised interpretations. Plaster casts of the classics are present in education until the beginning of the 20th century. Casts of nature can easily be integrated in this kind of instruction. Being trained in such an educational tradition, the artist puts plaster moulds and casts to use as documentation and reminder in their visual artwork. Some of these are still kept in artists' collections. In Herentals (Belgium) the study-statues of the sculptor Karel August Fraikin (1817-1893) are kept in a temporary housing. The Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris owns plaster casts as well.
Casts for pathological dermatology emerge when the artistic meets with the medical profession. Indeed, by mid-19th century, moulage in wax and plaster has settled in medical centres. Great names are Joseph Towne (1808-1879), working in the London Gordon Museum, Guy's Hospital, and Jules Baretta (1834-1928) of the museum of l'Hôpital Saint-Louis in Paris. In the casts, usually of bodyparts, the skin is emphasised, the by disease affected exterior. Pathological phenomena, visible signs of disease, are mercilessly recorded on behalf of study and education. When compared to the earlier idealising wax models these casts actually represent a syndrome, personality and history. Artistic additions are pieces of cloth which are cast as well, framing the clinical subjects.
Apart from education and medical studies, casts are produced for phrenology and ethnography, which will not be pursued here, and botany.
Nature, modelled and cast
Parallel to the renaissance of the anatomical models emerge wax models of plants in Florence, produced by the modellers Clemente Susini, Francesco Calenzuoli (1796-1829), Luigi Calamai (1800-1851) and Egisto Tortori (1829-1839) (5) . Calamai makes wax models of mushrooms as well. Leopold Trattinick from Austria has his wax mushroom models made since 1809. Apparently one of their functions is to instruct the population: which mushrooms are edible (6) ? In 1825 Paris, mushroom models made of polychrome wax are found, that are made by André Pinson, who produces anatomical waxes as well. From 1840 on, Jean Baptiste Barla (1817-1896) casts thousands of mushrooms - or he has this done. Since 1854 this is a business activity. Louis Marc Antoine de Robillard d'Argentelle's (1777-1828) wax exotic fruit models is exhibited in the period 1829-1830. By the end of the century a certain Théveny produces plaster vegetable and fruit casts, decorated true to nature and scooped out or made heavier, thus matching the weight of the originals. These works find their way to the World Fairs of 1889 and 1900 and to the Musée d'Economie botanique de Verrières-le-Buisson. By the end of the 19th century the natural history dealer Václav Frič (1839-1916) from Prague sells fruit models and papier mâché mushroom models (7) .
Along with the diversification of scientific specialisms, special models emerge during the second half of the 19th century. In Freiburg, Adolf Ziegler and his son Friedrich (1860-1936) make wax models representing highly enlarged embryonic stages. Rudolf Weisker from Leipzig releases enlarged wax models of parasitic worms. Frič in Prague offers plaster models of highly enlarged foraminifers (micro-organisms) (8) . Robert Brendel (ca. 1821-1898) from Breslau, present-day Wroclaw in Poland, starts a factory for botanical models: highly enlarged papier mâché flowers. Several of these can be dissembled, just like Auzoux's anatomical models. Leopold Blaschka (1822-1895) of Dresden develops models of the lower animal species, and his innovation is the use of glass. He too makes enlargements of micro-organisms and embryonic stages.
These botanical and zoological models are especially recommended for educational use.
Botanical models: Robert and Reinhold Brendel
The father and son Brendel produce models of highly enlarged flowers. Robert Brendel is the business founder; his son Reinhold Brendel (ca. 1861-1927) is his successor (9) . Father Brendel starts his model factory in Breslau where initially a pharmacist Lohmeyer supervises him, whereas Ferdinand Julius Cohn's (1828-1898) endorsment of that place is mentioned as a recommendation. A statement from 1866 lists 30 varying models of higher plants at a highly enlarged scale (10) . No data are available until 1896, when Reinhold already has moved the business to Berlin. From 1902 on he conducts his business from Grunewald near Berlin. He is decorated with the Prussian silver state medal (11) .
Usually, the models are made of papier mâché, yet other materials are applied as well: wood, shirting (cotton for shirts), rattan, pulp cane, glass beads and feathers. Gelatine is applied in transparent models. Franz Hugershoff of Leipzig is one of the dealers who offer the collection. In 1911 he accounts for Brendels scientific supervisors: the professors Cohn, already drawn into the business by father Brendel, and Eduard Eidam from Breslau and Alexander Tschirch (1856–1939) from Bern. In specialist subjects help is rendered by the professors Leopold Kny (1841-1916) and Carl Müller (1855-1907) of Berlin and Emerich Ratháy (1845-1900) of Klosterneuburg (Austria) (12) . Hugershoff's catalogue enumerates ca two hundred objects. The assortment consists of models from all groups of plants: algae, moulds, mosses, ferns and the higher plants. The latter are classified in categories that possibly best can be typified as 'economic.' The collection seems to be mainly aiming at practical botany training, emphasising plant systematics. After all, the highly enlarged models show the reproductive organs - stamens and pistils in the higher plants, since Linneus the key to classification of the plant kingdom.
Zoological models: Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka
Both the glass model maker Leopold Blaschka and his son Rudolf (1857-1939) are born in Aicha, Bohemia, present-day Česky Dub in the Czech Republic. From 1857 on father Blaschka experiments with imitating flowers in glass. Camille, prince of Rohan (1800-1892), takes an interest in Blaschka's artistic work. The prince is a plant lover and collector and owner of the estate Sychrov in the vicinity of Aicha. He orders to supply Blaschka with all the greenhouse materials that he might need, even of the rarest of flowers for him to use as an example. In the years 1860-1862 Blaschka produces some hundred glass flowers, mainly orchids that are exhibited by the prince in his Prague palace.
When Blaschka moves his family to Dresden around 1863, he carries with him the prince of Rohan's recommendation for Ludwig Reichenbach (1793-1879), director of the botanical gardens and the natural history museum of that place. Still in that very year he exhibits the glass flowers in the gardens pavilion. At the request of an Englishman Blaschka makes representations of the British sea anemones and corals. Reichenbach exhibits these in dry aquariums in the museum. This appears to be the kick-off of a world famous enterprise.
From 1876 on, the son Rudolf is fully employed in his father's studio. Together they manufacture out of clear, coloured and painted glasses invertebrate animals like sea anemones, hydroids, starfish, sea cucumbers, worms, squid, seaslugs and bivalves. The total amounts to 700 models in 1885. They find a destination as museum objects and teaching aids. They are sold directly to customers, and also through agents: Henry Augustus Ward (1834-1906) of Rochester (New York) in the United States, Robert Damon (1814-1889) from Weymouth in England and Frič from Prague in Austria-Hungary.
In the period 1887-1936 the father and son Blaschka produce an impressive amount of models for the economic botany collection of Harvard University in Cambridge (Massachusetts). Today, they constitute a tourist attraction known as The Glass Flowers of Harvard.
True to nature
Blaschka's glass animals are recommended as the better representatives of the groups of animals than the real, preserved animals. In the preface of Blaschka's sales catalogue, issued around 1870, Reichenbach records that the testimonial of their faithful representation of nature resounds from the remotest distances, the shipments meeting such general approval, that these should not be missing in any continent (13) . In the later catalogues their being true to nature is praised in the same way.
The recommendation of the true to life appearance of the glass models requires a closer examination. One could dismiss this as a selling proposition, yet the models had to serve as representations of real animals, known from literature. At the same time they had to compete with specimens that are collected in nature that possibly are preferred as a museum piece, even if they do not look attractive when preserved. Probably, the glass models can best be regarded as adequate spatial interpretations of printed zoological illustrations. Of some 300 models it is established, that they relate to images scattered over almost 70 publications. A much smaller amount, (an estimated 60) will have been based on observation of nature.
Can artificial objects ever be a true to nature imitation of their examples? In this respect the remark is stimulating, that the 'glass flowers of Harvard' would not teach a visitor from Mars much about plants, if he had not touched any (14) . Indeed, the models look similar to flowers and leaves, but one needs the tactile sense in order to accommodate to the plant's strength and vulnerability. Apart form that, the alien visitor can be misguided by the size of the exhibits all fitting in roughly same-sized showcases, whereas in nature the diversity in size is awe-inspiring. A similar approach is mutatis mutandis applicable to other models. In the Blaschka's glass animals the natural variation in an animal species cannot be derived from the model and the differences in sizes of the represented animal species are considerably reduced. Because of this, an ensemble makes a harmonious impression in a museum presentation. Moreover, are not all Brendel's flowers more ore less same-sized? The models represent a reality that is more related to museums and education than with life in nature.
Science or art
In the oldest known catalogues, published around 1870, Blaschka recommends the glass models as a decoration for the elegant rooms besides their museum use. This decorative function as complementary to scientific and educational applications is not repeated anymore in the later catalogues. However, the glass models are made with skill and refinement, they echo 19th century science and concepts and they are extraordinarily attractive. This summons the desire to raise them nevertheless to the arts. Indeed, partly because of the direction the arts took since Dada, the concept of art is widened so much, that it seems that it encompasses everything. This, however, only seems to be so, since the exigencies of innovation in concept, style, materials, choice of subject etc. seem to be more urgent than ever. This survey could now be short circuited by claiming that the father and son team Blaschka's glass models are innovative and that they therefore deserve to be acknowledged as artworks (15) . However, it is more correct, to determine that it was at best Blaschka's intention to offer his earliest glass animals also for sale as drawing-room decorations, yet he considered the largest part of his oeuvre mainly of importance within a natural history framework. In general, we should not measure or assess objects that originated before 1900 with criteria that come into being only after 1900.
In this matter the glass models recall the controversy of 'science or art'. It relates to the 19th century dispute about 'art or reality', when it comes to the position of photography and plaster casts as opposed to the arts. When in the years ten of the 20th century Marcel Duchamp ushers reality into the artistic domains, without even having it cast in plaster, this dispute is replaced by a new one. No longer the artistic content of an artwork is the topic, but the quality of the experience that it evokes.
Every object, when presented within an aesthetic framework, is able to evoke artistic experiences and therefore it may be considered art. If, for instance, Blaschka's glass models are presented in the context of their contemporary decorative arts, they presumably would be recognized in retrospect as related to expressions of Jugendstil and art nouveau - a relationship that already has been obvious for the knowledgeable eye. Possibly this justifies the opinion, that science and art merge in the Blaschka's glass models. These obsolete teaching aids are in any case reminders of Leopold en Rudolf Blaschka who, in their enthusiasm for science and love of nature, were children of their time.
About the author:
Henri Reiling (1951) completed his biology studies at the State University of Groningen (1969-1976) and he was educated in painting and the graphic arts at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie. Amsterdam [fine arts academy] (1978-1983). In the period 1992-1993, when he held a temporary position as a curatorial assistant of the zoological collections at the Utrecht University Museum, he took up a fascination for natural history models. On these, he would publish from 1994 on. In 1995 he was awarded the Rakow Grant for Glass Research by the Corning Museum of Glass (USA), for research on Blaschka's glass animals. He is employed by the Utrecht University Library.
Fig. 1. In 18th century Italy wax models originated, that captured medical knowledge. They represent idealised bodies. Wax model of the cut-away body of a pregnant woman.
Museo La Specola, Florence.
Fig. 2. In 1817 wax models were acquired for the teaching collections of the Austrian observatory of Kremsmünster. These models were issued by Leopold Trattinick complementary to his books on mushrooms.
Fig. 3. One-month-old human embryo, wax model by Adolf Ziegler, delivered in 1889.
Fig. 4. Anatomy of the parasitic worm Fasciola hepatica - sheep liver fluke.
Fig. 5. Papier mâché model of a flax flower, by Robert Brendel, Breslau.
Fig. 6. Papier mâché model of poppy flower and bud, by R[einhold] Brendel, Berlin.
Fig 7. Casts have personality, history and a syndrome. Degeneration, horn-like raspberry shaped areas caused by syphilis, wax moulage by Alfons Kröner, 1900-1925, Breslau.
Fig. 8. From 1863 on Václav Frič from Prague offers plaster models of highly enlarged foraminifers. They represent highly enlarged shells of these micro-organisms. (Delivered second half of the 19th century).
Fig. 9.Highly enlarged representation of the hydroid Bougainvillia fruticosa Allm. Leopold en Rudolf Blaschka, 1883.
Fig. 10. Glass model of the 'Root-mouth' Jellyfish, Rhizostoma pulmo L. Leopold en Rudolf Blaschka, 1883
Fig. 11.Series highly enlarged embryonic stages of the starfish Amphiura filiformis M. Glass models by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, 1883.
Fig. 12. Glass model of the Sea Hare, a Mediterranean slug. Leopold en Rudolf Blaschka, 1883.
Fig. 13. Glass anatomy model of the sea cucumber Holothuria tubulosa Gmelin. Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, 1883.
Fig. 14. Glass model of a slug from the west of the Pacific, Kalinga ornata Alder & Hancock. Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, 1883
Fig. 15. Glass model of Mahonia Aquilifolium (Pursh) Nutt. Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, 1891.This shrub is characterised with leaves and inflorescences. Enlargements of pilstil and stamens and of sections of the ovary to serve teaching botany.